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Cracks in authoritarian regimes offer hope in bleak year, says Human Rights Watch | Human rights

Cracks in authoritarian regimes offer hope in bleak year, says Human Rights Watch | Human rights

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Cracks in the armor of authoritarian states over the past year should give the world hope that brutal regimes can be held accountable, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its annual analysis of the state of human rights worldwide.

HRW’s 2023 World Report chronicles the litany of human rights crises that have affected millions of people over the past 12 months, most dramatically in afghanistan, where the Taliban have “constantly rolled back women’s rights since they took power” and in China where mass detention of about one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, stands out for its “seriousness, scale and cruelty”.

But fault lines have emerged in seemingly impenetrable countries, said HRW acting executive director Tirana Hassan. Hassan cited street protests in Chinese cities against strict “zero Covid” lockdown measures and in Iran, where the death of Mahsa Amini22, in police custody for not wearing her hijab properly unleashed the country’s biggest street protests in years.

“What 2022 has shown us is that there are cracks in the authoritarian armor,” Hassan said. “There is an uprising of people who have expressed their commitment, desire and demand to realize human rights.” But for change to happen, countries around the world must support them, she said.

“We can’t take for granted, just because there’s tension right now and people are on the streets in Iran, for example, that it’s going to last until 2023,” Hassan said.

HRW also praised the international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to protect refugees, investigate crimes and impose sanctions as a positive note in a year of dramatic declines in human rights around the world.

As the organization launched its global assessment for 2022Hassan said it was the first time in decades that nations had come together to ensure “justice and accountability” for war crimes and to protect refugees.

“We have seen what is possible when the international community comes together to prioritize the safety and protection of people fleeing war,” Hassan said. Within weeks of the invasion, the international community had established criminal investigations, evidence-gathering mechanisms and mobilized the international court, she said. “We have seen what is possible when it is mobilized to ensure that there is justice and accountability for the most flagrant crimes committed, including war crimes.” The bar moved for the first time in decades, and it didn’t fall, it went up.”

Hassan suggested that governments consider the potential outcome if they had acted earlier, at the start of the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014 or when Russian jets bombed civilian areas in Syria in 2016. “What would have happened if the international community had held Putin accountable for these other crimes, or even held Russia accountable for the initial invasion of Ukraine?” she asked.

“If autocrats and human rights abusers are not held accountable, it emboldens them,” Hassan said, calling on governments to respond similarly to human rights abuses outside Europe.

“We can expect the same type of response to serious violations in Israel and Palestine, in Afghanistan and around the world.” This is how seriously the world takes its obligations. It is replicable. Twenty-twenty-three gives countries an opportunity to demonstrate that it’s not just about what happened in Europe.

The armed conflict in Ethiopiashe said, has received only a “small fraction” of the global attention focused on Ukraine, despite two years of atrocities, including a number of massacres by warring countries.

“We cannot underestimate the ripple effect of giving some of the world’s worst crimes a free pass,” Hassan said, noting that 2022 had been a “very challenging year” for women’s rights – particularly in Afghanistan, which provides “the starkest picture yet of what the total erosion of women’s rights looks like.”

“In Afghanistan, our job is to remain committed to human rights, to strengthen them in every way possible, and to ensure that the Taliban are pressured to change their thinking.” We often think that the Taliban are untouchable. They are not.

“What I would say is, in the face of this incredibly dark time, we’re witnessing some extraordinary counter-movements for women’s rights around the world.”

In a year in which The US Supreme Court struck down 50 years of federal protections on abortion rights, Latin America saw the so-called “green wave” of women-led expansion of abortion rightsincluding in Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, which provides a “road map” for other countries, Hassan said.


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